One Extremely Helpful Tip for Parenting Your “Attention-Seeking” Teen

One Extremely Helpful Tip for Parenting Your “Attention-Seeking” Teen

Something that I hear consistently from parents of teenagers is a concern that their teens are engaging in certain behaviours “for attention.” Sometimes they reference the way their teens are dressing or acting, the company they are keeping, the level of emotion on display, or even behaviours they have had the misfortune of witnessing, such as cutting, destructive eating habits or threats of suicide.

The level of fear and frustration is understandable when you witness your teen engaging in behaviours such as these, specifically those that are destructive. However, I have noticed that the way in which many parents choose to address behaviours they perceive to be “attention-seeking,” is to not “give in to them,” which is to ignore them. The belief is that by giving in to it, they are “rewarding,” the behaviour. Further, if they dry up the well of attention the logic is that the teen will discontinue the behaviour. The reality is that most of the time, this is not a very effective strategy. Often what happens is that the behaviour goes into high gear, or the teen turns to others – peers, online connections, social media – to meet the need for attention. So, what can parents do to parent an “attention seeking,” teen? The answer is relatively simple:




Since as a culture we seem to abhor the idea of attention-seeking, we often don’t realize how healthy a cry for attention really is and how it is actually a basic human need. We can liken the need for attention as humans to our need for air, water, and food. It is an emotional need that is as valid as any and all of our physical needs. When people can’t satiate their need for attention, and if they don’t have the ability or maturity to recognize this need and seek it in healthy ways, they will instead turn to unhealthy means of attention-seeking to meet the need. The alternative to meeting the need is just shutting down emotionally and “not caring,” anymore. Often this is when suicide is a higher risk and other destructive means of coping become more out of control because there is nothing left emotionally to pull oneself back from these options.

Our teens will seek attention naturally, and we need to give it to them. The parent-child relationship is one that will form the foundation for every relationship they have for the rest of their lives. There is no investment of time that is more important than this. This is what much of the literature out there refers to as attachment and its importance cannot be overstated.

When parents first tell me that their teen is attention-seeking in unhealthy ways, one of my first thoughts is of gratitude that the teen hasn’t given up on life, on attempting to meet their needs at least in some way. My second thought is, how can I help this parent reframe the need for attention as a healthy, life-seeking need, and then how do I help them learn how to meet this need in healthy and successful ways. Because the primary issue is not that they are seeking attention, but that they are doing so in unhealthy, potentially dangerous ways. So how do we give them attention in healthy ways as parents? Here are some ideas:

  • Find out what they are interested in, and engage them in that. If they are into music, listen with them, ask them about it. Video games? Play with them. The outdoors? Take them out for a hike. Lavish them with the love and attention you have for them in a language they will understand and respond to the most.
  • Listen to them, and when they speak, hear them. Don’t write off their big feelings and emotions – the teenage years are a hard time of confusing feelings and big developmental changes – make space and time for these feelings, and be understanding.
  • Don’t wait for them to come to you – go to THEM. Many parents will say things to their teens like, “If you ever have any questions about anything, feel free to ask!” This has a lovely intention, but here’s the thing: 9 times out of 10, they won’t take the initiative. Go to them and ask questions, make contact, show them you are interested in their thoughts, ideas, future plans, hopes, dreams. Ask them how they’re coping, and if they need some support. Be present.
  • DON’T give up.


And finally, if there is anything that we can do to support you at Alongside You, don’t hesitate to reach out or call  604-283-7827 ext. 707.


3 Simple Ways to Reconnect and Reduce Anxiety

3 Simple Ways to Reconnect and Reduce Anxiety

These days anxiety is on the rise, thanks in large part to the increase of using numbing out, or disconnecting, to deal with strong emotions. It’s become somewhat of an epidemic, perhaps due to the now widespread use of screens and smartphones, for people to disconnect from their emotions and numb them out instead of soothing them or working through them. Disconnecting in and of itself is not a negative thing – it’s crucial to be able to disconnect from our emotions if we need to get things done, or if we’re not in a safe place. However, the temptation to stay disconnected is huge with so much to distract us, and this can prevent us from attending to and resolving our feelings, or even taking some time to self-soothe.

By being more intentional about connecting to our bodies and learning self-soothing mechanisms we can help decrease anxiety when it begins to rise in us and feel safer in general when navigating our day-to-day lives.

Here are three simple ways to help soothe and reconnect when anxiety arises.

  • The 1-2 breath – During times of higher anxiety, our bodies switch into a kind of a survival mode, where our sympathetic nervous system activates and causes us to breathe more rapidly, seeking to increase the oxygen in our bodies and make us “ready for anything,” so to speak. This is an exhausting state to remain in, and can leave us tired and irritable by the end of the day. In this state, often unbeknownst to us, our breathing patterns become more rapid and shallow, and the focus is on the oxygen-inducing inhale, rather than the carbon dioxide-releasing exhale. By paying attention to one’s breathing and focusing on establishing a pattern of shorter, expansive inhales, and longer, slower exhales, the body is invited into a state of relaxation and safety, and it naturally calms and regulates. This can be achieved by breathing into a count of “one Mississippi”, and out to a count of “one Mississippi, two Mississippi”. This is best done in a quiet, calm environment, and placing one hand over the heart and one hand on the stomach during this breath can help facilitate the connection, and help the body focus on slowing down and calming.
  • Grounding/Rooting down – When anxiety is quickly rising in our bodies it can be quite an intense experience, one that can even feel like an out-of-body experience, which is a very helpless feeling. Anxiety intensity is usually dominant in the upper parts of the body – churning stomach, pounding heart, racing head, sweaty palms, etc. In order to soothe this, it can be helpful to focus yourself on rooting down, moving yourself to a safe space if possible and focus on the lower, calmer parts of the body, the feet, the legs, the bottom or lower back – any place that is connected to something still and stable, like the floor or a chair. Breathing and getting heavy and focusing on those safe connecting points, even imagining one’s feet as tree trunks, rooting strongly into the ground, can help the body quickly cool down from the rapidly rising anxiety and help it to feel safer, more connected and stable.
  • Sensory tools – another thing that can help ground the body during rising anxiety is to have available a few sensory items that are relaxing and soothing. For those who find tactile items and the sense of touch soothing, keeping a piece of soft blanket or cotton balls, or even sandpaper handy can help – something to hold and focus on in the midst of rising anxiety. For those who find scent soothing – like something reminiscent of a mother’s perfume or a favourite baked item, they can keep a bottle of lotion, perfume, or essential oils handy for calming.

Likewise for those who find music soothing, having a certain song or meditation ready to play to help them breathe and cool down can be helpful. Even taste can help with soothing – having a piece of gum or a jelly bean of a certain flavour. Creatively seeking out things that help soothe the body and having them at the ready in a little, pocket sized “anxiety survival kit” can be a huge help when anxiety unexpectedly arises.

I hope this has been helpful for you and gives you some tips to help manage your emotions and anxieties. Often it helps to go through these with a professional, and sometimes our emotions and anxieties are beyond what we can manage on our own. If you’d like some help, please let us know, that’s what we’re here for!



If you’d like some help manage your emotions and anxieties, we’d love to help. Please give us a call at 604-283-7827, send us an email through our website, or book an appointment online and one of our counsellors would love to help you out!

Non-Directive Play : A Way to Reduce Anxiety in Young Children Part II

Non-Directive Play : A Way to Reduce Anxiety in Young Children Part II

Part 2

In part 1 of this post, “Non-Directive Play : A Way to Reduce Anxiety in Young Children Part I”we talked about a tool called Non-Directive Play (or Child-Centred Play) that has the power to reduce anxiety in young children. We encourage parents to use non-directive play with their children as it produces great benefits in the mental health and well-being of their children. In part 2 of Non-Directive Play, we suggest ways parents can learn how to apply the play to their children and explain further how the play solidifies attachment and a feeling of safety in young children. 


Non-Directive Play Solidifies Attachment


Non-Directive Play helps solidify the attachment bond between child and parent. Children who lack a solid attachment bond with their parent or caregiver have an increased inability to cope with anxiety. A strong attachment bond gives children a strong ability to deal with anxiety, boosts their self-confidence, and becomes the foundation upon which a child’s relational framework and social skills will be built on. Research conducted by Ray (2008) showed that engagement in Non-Directive Play “demonstrated a statistically significant positive effect” on any stress pre-existing in the parent-child relationship. For all these reasons, parents should put in the time and effort to facilitate a strong attachment bond with their children.


Non-Directive Play Enhances Safety


Non-Directive Play has been shown to enhance a child’s general sense of safety. This happens due to the safe environment of exploration and self-discovery that non-directive play promotes. During the play, a parent will refrain from asking any questions to preserve the safe, exploratory nature of the space that has been created, and he or she will not ask the child any questions they feel like must be answered. A safe play space is one within which things do not have to be qualified or categorized, but can simply exist, and be recognized and accepted as they are. All levels of anxiety are removed as there is no need to please one’s parent or caregiver.

This safe environment constructed by Non-Directive Play has been shown to lessen a child’s attention-seeking or acting out behavioural patterns. This method has demonstrated the greatest benefit for solving broad-spectrum behavioural problems, increasing children’s self-esteem, and reducing caregiver–child relationship stress (Lin & Bratton, 2015).

Non-Directive play is a simple process that can lead to incredible results for children. These results can be immediate and the positive impacts will be seen throughout a child’s life. Measured effects of Non-Directive Play include a more positive self-concept of oneself, better anxiety management skills, increased confidence, improved social skills, and a decrease in behavioural problems. All of these effects can make a significant impact in a child’s life and improve the family system as a whole (Wilson & Ryan, 2001).

While the concept is relatively simple, it can be difficult for parents to stop evaluating or reinforcing their child. Positive reinforcement and curiosity towards their children occurs very naturally to most parent, almost like a knee-jerk reaction. As a result, the best way to learn to engage in Non-Directive Play with one’s child is through learning from a therapist who is well-versed in the technique. This can give a parent the confidence to use the technique and the freedom to enjoy that time with their child. Parents who demonstrate an unconditional acceptance lay the groundwork for their child’s own acceptance of him or herself. Any pre-existing anxiety of the children will eventually be replaced with a sense of peace, comfort, and well-being.



Lin, Y. & Bratton, S. C. (2015). A meta‐analytic review of child‐centered play therapy approaches. Journal of Counseling & Development, 93(1), 45-58.

Ray, D. C. (2008). Impact of play therapy on parent-child relationship stress at a mental health training setting. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 36(2), 165-187.

Wilson, K. & Ryan, V. (2001). Helping parents by working with their children in individual child therapy. Child & Family Social Work, 6(3), 209-217.

Non-Directive Play : A Way to Reduce Anxiety in Young Children Part I

Non-Directive Play : A Way to Reduce Anxiety in Young Children Part I

Part 1:

Reducing Your Children’s Anxiety


Recently, we have noticed a rising trend of anxiety in young children. This is particularly troubling as anxiety onset at a young age can lead to behavioural problems in the future. Thankfully, there are many tools and approaches designed to help your child cope with his/her anxiety.


Anxiety in young children come from their incapability of processing anxiety that fits under the norm of effective emotional regulation. Children don’t learn to effectively process multiple emotions until they are approximately 8 to 12 years old. Kids who are under the age of 8,  are incapable of identifying or seeking relief from complex emotional experiences. This inability to process emotions in a healthy way will often lead to anxiety in children and prompt them to act out in different ways.


Often parents will come to therapy to seek answers for these tough questions: how can I help my child reduce anxiety, or (more commonly), how can I stop my anxious child from acting out? Clearly, this is a problem that carries much weight. Thus much attention has been devoted in the therapeutic world to teaching parents effective tools for helping their child to cope with complex emotions. It is our hope these tools will help prevent an anxiety that can easily overwhelm children.


Non-Directive Play Reduces Anxiety


One tool proven to be effective in reducing anxiety in young children is Non-Directive Play, also known as Child-Centred Play. Non-Directive Play is a soothing approach of play where the child is given ultimate freedom of expression to play however they want to. Basically, the child is free to choose the items they want to play with, without getting judged or evaluated by the parent or caregiver. Children are given this freedom in a  pre-determined play structure and pre-established timeline. The theory is a child’s anxiety will decrease when they are allowed freedom to play as they wish without any evaluation or scrutiny by a parent.


During a Non-Directive Play session, a parent will sit with their child and give the child plenty of space to engage in that world freely. There are instructions given beyond the predetermined parameters. The parent will engage by simply learning to notice and describe what their child is doing during the play. These statements are free of judgement or evaluation.  This means parents should refrain from giving any signs of approval or disapproval while the child is playing. The parent is present only to observe and reflect a genuine interest in the child’s exploration and activities.  This can be expressed in a warm manner, gentle voice, and other clear indications of positive regard. Non-Directive Play allows the child to bask in the attention of his or her parent without having to give any explanations of justifications. In this framework, the parent gets to be the opportunity to be a warm and acknowledging presence for the child. 

Improving Coping Skills for Those With Anxiety 


Research has shown that engaging in this type of play semi-regularly can improve a child’s ability to cope with anxiety as well as increase their self-confidence and independence. In the study of effects of teaching parents to engage in Non-Directive Play with their children, Wilson & Ryan (2001) found that children showed improvement in terms of becoming “more manageable and accept(ing) adult control more readily”. In addition, Wilson & Ryan (2001) found the self-esteem and social skills of children may increase through continued use of non-directive play, making them more amenable to discipline. In a 2008 study, Ray also spoke of the positive impacts of Non-Directive Play, noting improvements in children who were exposed to this technique. You see improvements in their anxiety symptoms, markedly better social skills, and a decrease in any clinical behavioural problems.




Lin, Y. & Bratton, S. C. (2015). A meta‐analytic review of child‐centered play therapy approaches. Journal of Counseling & Development, 93(1), 45-58.

Ray, D. C. (2008). Impact of play therapy on parent-child relationship stress at a mental health training setting. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 36(2), 165-187.

Wilson, K. & Ryan, V. (2001). Helping parents by working with their children in individual child therapy. Child & Family Social Work, 6(3), 209-217.